Africa faces a 470 million shortfall in Covid-19 vaccine doses this year after the Covax alliance cut its projected shipments, raising the risk of new and deadly variants, the WHO said on Thursday.
Only 17% of the continent’s population will now be vaccinated by the end of this year, compared with the 40% target set by the World Health Organisation, the global agency’s Africa unit said at its weekly briefing in the Congolese capital of Brazzaville.
“The staggering inequity and severe lag in shipments of vaccines threaten to turn areas in Africa … into breeding grounds for vaccine-resistant variants,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Africa director.
“This could end up sending the whole world back to square one.”
Due to global shortages, the Covax alliance set up to ensure equitable delivery of jabs will ship about 150 million fewer doses of vaccine to Africa than planned.
Taking into account this shortfall, the 470 million doses of vaccine now expected in Africa will allow only 17% of the population to be fully protected, the WHO’s regional office said.
“As long as rich countries lock Covax out of the market, Africa will miss its vaccination goals,” Moeti said.
The reduction in the vaccination target comes as Africa passes the eight million mark in infections this week, the WHO said.
About 95 million doses should have been received in Africa via Covax during September, but despite the resumption of shipments, “Africa has only been able to vaccinate 50 million people or 3.6% of its population,” says WHO Africa.
The Covax international funding mechanism is supposed to allow 92 disadvantaged states and territories to receive free vaccines funded by more prosperous nations.
Last week, it revised its forecasts downwards, explaining the lack of doses “by export bans, the priority given to bilateral agreements between manufacturers and countries, delays in filing applications for approval”, among other reasons.